Installing Windows Home Server 2011 RC in VMware ESXi

After the Drive Extender (DE) fiasco with Windows Home Server “Vail” (now Windows Home Server 2011) I was not overly interested in installing the WHS 2011 Release Candidate (RC). However I decided to install it in a virtual machine today to begin looking at DE replacements.

Installing WHS 2001 (RC) in VMware ESXi is straight-forward. First download the .iso image and obtain a product key from Microsoft.

In ESXi when you create the virtual machine you will need to specify Windows Server 2008 R2 (64 bit) as the operating system. You will also need to create a hard drive that is at least 160Gb. Otherwise I selected the defaults (except for the RAM).

As you can see in the screen-shot gallery below there was not a whole lot of user interaction required during installation and there were a few reboots:


3 thoughts on “Installing Windows Home Server 2011 RC in VMware ESXi

  1. OK. I am a noob at all this virtualisation stuff, but I easily set up my wife’s MAC to run Windows 7 under a VM but didn’t play with the settings apart from amount of RAM allocated to windows 7.

    I also understand that ESX vs ESXi is pretty much having the virtual machine run under an OS compared to having ESXi as the Host (OS?)

    And I vaguely understand that a virtual machine will be held in RAM in some fashion, and what I understand even less (please help me here) is that you can pass through parts of the system in a ESX environment so that the physical parts of the machine interact directly with the OS it is passed through to???

    Now if I am too far out of my depth I wont bother, but I feel like this could be a good idea to run ESXi with WHS virtualised over it as it sounds like I can then port my WHS2011 to new hardware when needed (MOST AWSOME FUTURE PROOFING I CAN THINK OF)?

    For my ESXi Server Box I intend to run WHS2011, and also have Live TV tuner cards (which I hear a lot of people tune and use through a virtualised Windows 7 – is this due to WHS 2011 not being able to handle video cards? & does it all sound plausible and easy to do?
    Note: I would prefer to have it all run through WHS2011 but use the ESXi as a future proof upgrade path…

    Finally if this sounds reasonable for me to do, where will all virtual file storing data (Movies, documents etc) actually be (obviously on the HDD as cant have 3-10TB of RAM), and if the hardware fails (say motherboard), will I be able to remove HDD and see all my precious data on them, or where and how is it exactly stored (Formats etc)?

    1. ESXi is classed as a bare metal hypervisor which means that virtual machines can get close to bare metal performance (i.e. they perform almost as well as being installed alone on a physical machine). This is not the case when you virtualize on Windows 7 or on a MAC.

      ESX includes a linux management console which also allows third party functionality – this console is not present in ESXi (for security and other reasons) and so you will see VMware moving away from ESX to ESXi. ESXi is also known as VMware vSphere.

      Each virtual machine (VM) will need an allocation of host (vSphere / ESXi) resources to operate – CPU, RAM and Hard Disk Space. vSphere manages requests for these resources from the virtual machines. RAM is what you need for the VM OS processes to run – hard drive space will store your OS and any other data.

      Passthrough does allow specific hardware to be allocated to specific virtual machines directly. At a basic level I can assign a jump drive to a specific VM but this is currently slow and not what people refer to when they are talking about passthrough ‘proper’. Proper passthrough would be assigning a physical NIC or video card to a single VM. Passthrough requires research though – you need a supported CPU and motherboard and “supported” hardware. VMware has a Hardware Compatibility List for official (usually server) hardware and you will also find that VMware enthusiasts are keeping track of this also along with more consumer level hardware such as ATi video cards.

      For the WHS setup you are describing you would have the WHS install virtualized in the normal way but if you want to be able to pull the hard disks storing your data you would need to present them directly to WHS with Raw Device Mapping. I haven’t got round to trying this but essentially if you have the hard disks all installed in ESXi you would need to do some command line in ESXi to present the drives directly to ESXi.

      The issue with WHS 2011 and tuner cards is drivers. I’m not sure if there would be other issues trying to pass them through to a VM if drivers were available. The way around this is to use a network based tuner like the HD Homerun products.

      To research the necessary hardware just search for “ESXi vSphere Whitebox”. You main issue will be with PCI based tuner cards though – I am not sure how successful people have been in passing them through in vSphere …

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